WHEN Gerry Hughes was a boy, one of his prized possessions was a magazine about the great sailor Sir Francis Chichester's solo voyage around the world.

Gerry was used to people telling him he couldn't do things because he was deaf, but across the top of the magazine, in tiny letters, he wrote: "One day I will go round the world like Sir Francis."

This month – more than 40 years after writing that message – the teacher became the first deaf person to sail round the world.

Now back at home in Glasgow, with a huge Welcome Back banner pinned above the door, Hughes is still overwhelmed by his achievement. He nearly died a thousand times on the eight-month trip, he says, and by the time he got back to Scotland had been battered by the waves and by emotions: fear, guilt, euphoria.

"There was just me and my mind," he says.

Now he has recovered and the blisters on his hands have healed, Hughes can enjoy his remarkable journey. Speaking through a sign-language interpreter, he said he saw it as a victory over negativity – the vast majority of people, deaf and hearing, told him he couldn't do it – but also a personal victory too.

"I felt that for the first time I'd got through the barriers," he says. "All the years before, it was like taking steps. The first step was reading, the second was university. But these were sub-dreams to get to the big one."

What rankles with Hughes, who is 55 and teaches deaf pupils at St Roch's Secondary in Glasgow, is the opposition he faced when he first suggested the idea of the round-the-world trip on his boat Quest III.

"There was so much negativity," he says. "The only support I got was from my wife and daughters. Trying to get insurance was a nightmare."

As he tried to explain to the insurers, Hughes was confident in his skills at sea. He had been sailing with his father since he was two and also believes that in many ways deaf people can make better sailors than hearing ones.

"We use different senses. I look for the feeling of the wind and where it's coming from.

"And you can feel the tension on the wheel so you can work out when to let the sails go. I'm in tune with the boat and I want the boat to be happy."

Eventually, Hughes, who was born deaf, found a company that would insure him and set off last September. It was the realisation of a long-held ambition but the first few weeks were hellish, both for him and his wife Kay.

"The first week I was away I was crying constantly," says Hughes. "And then I got this terrible guilt. I thought: why am I doing this, why am I doing it to everyone?"

Kay, 47, who is also deaf, felt pretty much the same way. "The first two months were really hard," she says. "I knew he was determined but we work at the same school and we see each other every day, so that separation was difficult. Then, after those two months, I found this confidence. I started to believe in him."

The couple, who have two daughters, Nicola, 23 and Ashley, 20, kept in touch every day by email and thousands of fans also followed the journey online. In total, Hughes covered 32,000 miles, surviving mainly on pasta and rice and catching cat-naps only when he could. At one point, he had to steer non-stop for eight hours through a force-11 gale. He admits that at times he felt extreme fear.

"Oh yes," he says. "In the Pacific, I was thousands of miles from anywhere and there was no way I could go back. I could see the wind accelerating and the waves rising and I'd no idea how long it was going to be like that. This happened for three or four days and I was exhausted.

"A little dram of whisky got me to sleep – that was my Scottish medicine. I'm not a drinker but the whisky was my treat – I'd survived that day and it became a ritual."

Perhaps the lowest point of the trip was when Quest III capsized off the Cape of Good Hope – Hughes is still not certain how it happened. "Everything was going fine, I was gliding through the waves and the next thing, we were upside down, I was standing on the ceiling but I can't remember anything. The water was starting to come in, and then when it righted itself, I went outside to check the mast and thank God it was okay. I don't know what happened."

By the time Hughes reached the end of his journey in Troon, Ayrshire, earlier this month, he realised he could use his story to inspire other deaf people. "Deaf people very rarely reach their full potential," he says, "and that's because they're told they can't do it. I wanted to prove deaf people can do this. I'm a teacher so I want to educate."

Even in teaching, though, Hughes has faced prejudice. He grew up in Glasgow but went to deaf school in York and was shocked by what he found when he got back to Scotland, although he's keen to emphasise that the situation is much better now.

"I met lots of deaf people and none of them had any qualifications – nothing. And I couldn't understand that. Glasgow had failed deaf people – they just hoarded them into school and told them they couldn't do anything."

Hughes was also repeatedly told he couldn't train as a teacher. "I couldn't get through that door – they said there's no way you can be a qualified teacher if you're deaf. Then I decided I would see a lawyer. I'd had enough." Three months later, he started his training at St Andrew's College in Glasgow and in 1995 became the first profoundly deaf person in modern-day Scotland to qualify as a teacher.

Hughes says he loves his teaching job and is keen to get back to work, but knows too his heart will always be with the sea. He is loyal to the boy who wrote that message on the magazine 50 years ago and aware too there might be other boys like him with similar dreams he could inspire.

"I've done it," he says, "and I've proven to everybody I can do it. But since I've been back, young deaf people have been saying to me 'I've got a dream about something – and I can do it too'."